Well, should you start a small(ish) business? If you’re where I was in the year 2000  then the answer is definitely yes. I was doing a job that I didn’t enjoy and I wanted out. Strangely, in those days I was being paid quite well and got promoted regularly but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do, and I had always the ambition to be working in my own business.  So here was my carefully planned exit strategy – I went home at the end of 2000 for the holidays, decided I couldn’t stand working there for another year and I handed in my notice at the beginning of 2001. Now what?

But what type of business should I start?

After deciding that you want to start a business, you need to decide on what kind of business you would start. I had developed an interest in computers and the internet (actually, the World Wide Web) was fairly new and exciting, so I decided to start up a web design business. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was really setting up a digital agency that provided web design, development and hosting, search engine optimization and website usability services, but I knew so little about it that I had no idea what would be involved at the outset.

Where would I find my first customers?

With my new business cards and stationery printed, I was ready to go. But go where? It became apparent very quickly that I was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Where and who were my customers? When I had borrowed some money from my bank to start the business they asked me about this and, although I had told them what they wanted to hear, I actually had no idea how to go about this. I wrote letters to business owners with vague information about the services I could offer – I didn’t want to miss any opportunities by being too specific (yes, big mistake) – and followed these letters up with phone calls. I got some appointments but generally, the people I met with didn’t show me much respect since they saw me as a salesman who had cold-called them to get an appointment. Some business came from this but not much. Up to this point, I had been feeling a bit isolated and, because I had no-one to discuss things with, I become a bit fearful since all the problems finding customers were starting to build up in my head. Making a deal with a startup marketing agency would be the best choice for creating systems that are predictable and repeatable for attracting customers at a profit. Although, it takes some time to develop successful marketing systems that are adaptable to the ever-changing business environment .

In business it’s not what you know, it’s who you know

The turning point really came when I was approached to join a business networking group.  Initially, I wasn’t interested in doing this since I believed they would want me to hand over a list of all my friends, relatives and business contacts so the other members could bombard them with sales calls. However, the reality was very different. I had been a member of a local chamber of commerce from the beginning and believed that this was business networking, but the people at the chamber meetings (including me) didn’t seem to know why they were there. The meetings of this business networking group were focused on members supporting each other, providing qualified business referrals where the prospective customer was actually looking forward to your call. Now I was on my way properly.  I wished I had done this much sooner.

Should you quit your job to start your small business?

When times were hard I used to wish I hadn’t quit my job to start my business, but rather have started it in my spare time and built it up to the point where the income was sufficient for me to quit. However, I don’t think that would have worked for me because unless you are highly motivated (I think I am, but I’m usually not) it’s very difficult to keep doing what it takes to find new business while you are receiving a comfortable salary and you may not see it through. Also, a full-time job has pressures of its own and it can make you resent your business so that you avoid doing any work in it since it becomes just another hassle in your day.

It’s hard to run a business part-time while you have a day job

I’ve got some evidence to support this now since a few years ago my old employers approached me to see if I’d like to come back after four years of self-employment. I figured that I could go back and try not to get too involved so that I would have a regular salary and still run my business on the side. On the plus side, the regular salary meant I didn’t have to take on projects that I didn’t want since I already had some regular income. On the minus side, your employer usually wants their money’s worth from you and I found that over a few years my self-employment activity dwindled to almost nothing. This is why I believe that if I hadn’t quit my job initially I would never have got the business going; it’s very difficult to do uncomfortable things while you are living comfortably.

Again, should I start my own business?

The answer to this question is definitely yes. While I was totally self-employed in my own business I was anxious a lot of the time about finding customers, satisfying customers and making a living but not once in four years did I ever feel depressed or even unhappy. I can’t say that about any other job I’ve had. Should you quit your job to start your business? Almost certainly not! Knowing what I know now, I would have kept my job, joined the business networking organization (most of their meetings are finished by 8.30am), hired a qualified and experienced agency for digital marketing and build up my customer base that way. Would it have been hard to do while still in a job? Yes, but with a proper business plan (there’s an idea) I could have gradually built up the business to the point where I could leave my job safely. The key lesson for me – it’s not what you know it’s who you know.